Elon Musk Officially Revealed Neuralink Human Testing: What if we had complete freedom to test new body-invasive technologies on real people? Since the dawn of science, direct technology testing on real individuals has been an ethical nightmare. This was a problem for ancient physicists and doctors, and it is now a problem for modern scientists.
However, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem for Elon Musk as he seems to have recently revealed his plan to carry out a human trial for his Neuralink technology.
Is Elon Musk really going to ignore all the ethical dilemmas that seem to surround anything that has to do with neurotechnology and related technologies that have to do with invading your bodily privacy? How do the regulatory bodies feel about this new development and what are they doing about it? Let’s find out.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a secretive company that develops brain-machine interfaces, showed off some of its technology to the public in 2019. The ultimate goal is to implant devices in paraplegic people that will allow them to control phones and computers.
The first major advancement in flexible “threads,” which are less likely to harm the brain than current brain-machine interface materials. According to a white paper credited to “Elon Musk & Neuralink,” these threads also make it possible to transfer a larger amount of data.
The system might have “as many as 3,072 electrodes per array dispersed across 96 threads,” according to the abstract. The threads are 4 to 6 meters long, making them far thinner than a human hair. In addition to generating the threads, Neuralink has developed a system that embeds them automatically.
Musk gave a big presentation of Neuralink’s research, though he said that it wasn’t simply for hype. “The main reason for doing this presentation is recruiting,” Musk said, asking people to go apply to work there.
Max Hodak, president of Neuralink, also came on stage and admitted that he wasn’t originally sure “this technology was a good idea,” but that Musk convinced him it would be possible. Scientists from Neuralink intend to utilize a laser beam instead of cutting holes to go through the skull in the future, according to talks with The New York Times.
According to the source, the first studies would be conducted with Stanford University neuroscientists. “By the end of next year, we want to have this in a human patient,” Musk stated. Musk presented results that the rest of the crew hadn’t expected during a Q&A session at the end of the presentation: “A monkey’s brain has been used to control a computer.”
In the year 2022, Elon Musk appears to be on the verge of launching the first human trials of his brain-computer interface technology. According to a new job advertisement for a ‘Clinical Trial Director’ at Neuralink, the neurotech business is getting ready to go forward with its brain chip research.
People with paralysis would likely use Neuralink’s interface to get direct neurological control of a computer cursor in early human experiments, which Mr. Musk predicted will take place in 2022.
The position calls for candidates who are “mission-driven” and “willing and eager to go above and beyond” to achieve the company’s ambitions. “As the Clinical Trial Director, you’ll work closely with some of the most innovative doctors and top engineers, as well as working with Neuralink’s first Clinical Trial participants!” the job listing, first spotted by Bloomberg, states.
“You will lead and help build the team responsible for enabling Neuralink’s clinical research activities and developing the regulatory interactions that come with a fast-paced and ever-evolving environment.”
In return, Neuralink claims to offer “an opportunity to change the world and work with some of the smartest and the most talented experts from different fields”. According to Mr. Musk, the first practical uses of Neuralink’s technology would be used to treat patients with brain abnormalities and diseases, and it will “solve important brain and spine problems with a seamlessly implanted device.”
“In the future, you’ll be able to save and replay memories. This is increasingly sounding like a Black Mirror episode… Ultimately you could download them into a new body or a robot body.” He has since claimed that the technology will give people “enhanced abilities”, like being able to stream music directly to their brain.
Neuralink researchers detailed a brain-computer interface in a report published in 2019 that uses an array of “small and flexible electrode threads’ surgically implanted into the brain by a robot. The device is “roughly the size of a dime” and may reportedly replace a piece of the skull without inflicting long-term brain damage.
Future versions will have all-day battery life and be able to link to a wearer’s smartphone wirelessly. Neuralink’s website currently has 84 job openings, including positions in robotics, software, animal care, and surgery. Of course, one may ask what kind of precedent exists for what Neuralink is about to do.
Matthew Nagle was the first person with spinal cord paralysis to have a brain implant that enabled him to control a computer cursor. Nagle told The New York Times that he learned to play Pong using only his head in 2006 and that it took him only four days to master the basic movements.
Since then, disabled patients with brain implants have used scientific research to bring objects into focus and control robotic limbs in labs. Nagle and others employed a system called BrainGate, which was originally created at Brown University.
“Neuralink didn’t come out of nowhere, there’s a long history of academic research here,” Max Hodak said at the presentation. “We’re, in the greatest sense, building on the shoulders of giants.”
However, none of the existing technologies fit Neuralink’s goal of directly reading neural spikes in a minimally invasive way. If the system proposed in Neuralink works, it might be a significant improvement over existing technology.
The Utah Array, a network of stiff needles that enables up to 128 electrode channels, was used by BrainGate. Not only are there fewer channels than Neuralink claims, implying that fewer data from the brain is being picked up, but the threads are also stiffer. That’s a concern for long-term functionality: the brain moves around in the skull, but the array needles don’t, causing harm.
Neuralink’s thin polymers may be able to remedy this issue. The primary issue in engaging with AI, according to Musk, is “bandwidth.” You can take in information faster than you can push it out with your voice or thumbs, but you’re already connected to a machine, according to philosopher Andy Clark’s theory.
As a result, his ambition is for this system to allow humans to communicate with robots more swiftly and directly from their minds. Finally, according to the paper, Neuralink has built a special chip that can better read, clean up, and amplify brain signals.
It can only transfer data over a wired connection for now (it uses USB-C), but the ultimate goal is to establish a wireless system. This wireless goal will be realized via a product called the “N1 sensor” by Neuralink, which is designed to be installed inside a human body and send data wirelessly.
It’s possible that it’ll read fewer neurons than the current USB prototype. Four of these sensors will be implanted by Neuralink, three in motor areas and one in a somatosensory area. It will link wirelessly to a gadget installed behind the ear that will be the only source of power. “It will be controlled through an iPhone app,” Hodak said.
“There is a whole FDA process we have to go through,” he added, “we haven’t done that yet.” Matthew MacDougall, head surgeon at Neuralink who appeared dressed in scrubs, said that safety is a primary goal and that ultimately they want it to be “something more like Lasik” eye surgery.
It may also be possible to do away with the necessity for general anesthesia. The initial patients, on the other hand, would not have such a non-invasive experience. In 2019 and 2020, the corporation continued to work with rats to ensure the platform’s stability.
However, if it succeeds, the technology is promising a “high bandwidth” brain link inserted via robot surgery. The use of thin flexible “threads” to connect neurons would allow for the recording of multiple neurons’ activity.
The goal is to achieve better, more precise results than past brain-machine interface initiatives. All of this could be beneficial to humans, but it could also be extremely harmful, increasing social inequalities, changing the essence of the human being as an individual linked to his body and private mental life, or allowing hackers, companies, and even governments to exploit and manipulate people in new ways.
Many questions regarding how to prepare for this future emerge. Perhaps now is the moment to consider where and how neurotechnology can be used before its applications become out of hand.
It seems evident that we are on the verge of a future in which neurotechnology will be able to alter people’s mental processes, enable telepathic communication, and technologically enhance human capacities.
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Information Source: Elon Musk Live